Robertson County, Tennessee
Phillip Jenkins and his brother operate a no-till and strip till tobacco farm (50 acres of Dark Fired tobacco and 10 acres of Burley tobacco) near Springfield, Tennessee. His brother also produces grain crops, corn, wheat, and soybeans in rotation. Phillip’s acreage is level, and in some places, gentle rolling, with Pembroke Silt Loam, Pickwick Silt Loam, and Staser Silt Loam soils. He received technical and financial assistance to implement cover crops from his local NRCS office.
Working with his brother, the typical rotation on Phillip’s acreage is corn, wheat, soybeans, and two years of tobacco. In similar crop rotations, soil organic matter levels would still consistent or increase during grain crops in no-till, and would fall during tobacco years due to tillage and low residue. Phillip wants to reverse that trend and build soil health during the years his farm is in tobacco.
Phillip began no-tilling his tobacco crop in 2014. Now all 60 acres are farmed with no-till. In 2015, he purchased a strip tillage planter and planted 75 percent of his 60 acres with strip tillage, and 25 percent with no-till. After the field was planted, it was rough compared to other no-till fields. To balance the need for tillage, Phillip uses multi-species cover crops to increase soil life, organic matter, and yields with less inputs.
He began no-tilling and planting his tobacco into corn stubble in 2014. After harvesting the tobacco, he planted a five-species cover crop mixture: 2 pounds of purple top turnips, 7 pounds of hairy vetch, 7 pounds of berseem clover, 17 pounds of cereal rye, and 20 pounds of winter oats per acre. After his 2015 harvest, he planted a the same and a different mixture of cover: 25 pounds of Austrian winter pea, 11 pounds of crimson clover, 20 pounds of cereal rye,and 2 pounds of purple top turnips per acre.
His soils are still a platy structure, but are moving toward a granular structure quickly. With time, Phillip expects that a more granular structure will help more water infiltrate into the soil. The soil surface was dark with earthworm casts all over the fields – something fairly unusual for tobacco fields. The soil organic matter on the farm has increased from 1 percent to 2 percent in one field, and up to 2.6 percent in others. Phillip will continue using multi-species cover crops with his diverse crop rotation, making adjustments on accordingly so he continues to see higher profits.